Speed was important to a shipmaster, both for dead reckoning and for short-range navigation. By the late 1800s, the taffrail log was fairly common: a dial mounted on the stern attached by a long line to the torpedo-like log, which has fins to spin it at a carefully calculated rate. The log translates the number of spins into miles covered, with readings in nautical miles on dials of ones, tens, and hundreds. A simpler version was the Walker Harpoon, which put the calculator on the torpedo itself. At the end of each watch, the Harpoon would be pulled in, the distance read, recorded, and reset to zero, and the log tossed back for the next watch. These all-brass logs polish up to a high shine, and are a world apart from the LED speed readings given to modern skippers. Expect to pay $750 to $1,000 for a good Walker Harpoon log.
This only scratches the surface of nautical collectibles and we'll have more features in the future. But for now, holding a piece of history in your hands and imagining the seafarers who have used it and passed it on is heady stuff. did they cross oceans and brave storms? did they carry cargos to faraway ports? who were they? what ships were they aboard?
It's all hidden inside the world of nautical collectibles.